“While we had a lot of humour in our conversations into and out of the drop areas, once there, they were absolutely totally professional in every way.”
Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan were killed when their C-130 crashed into bushland after dropping a load of fire retardant on a ridgetop close to Peak View on Thursday afternoon.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons called the US nationals “absolute professionals”.
“Our hearts are out with all those that are suffering what is the loss of three remarkable well-respected crew that have invested many decades of their life into firefighting and fire management, and are professionals… in the aviation firefighting sector.”
Mr Maddern witnessed two retardant drops from the cockpit of a C-130. He said at times the crew had zero visibility.
“Although the fires were small, houses were threatened. During the flights it was easy to see problems with visibility due to smoke, added to [having] what I guessed was about 150 foot clearance from treetops on hills. In perspective, the current C-130 is around 120 foot long.”
Mr Maddern, who trained at RAAF Richmond, said he was “extremely impressed” by Coulson Aviation, a Candian company which specialises in ‘next-generation’ aerial firefighting practices.
“Coulson perfected the delivery system now in use and have continued to improve both the capacity and capabilities of the aircraft,” he said.
An investigation into Thursday’s crash is underway, with the Air Transportation Safety Bureau focusing on weather conditions at the time of the incident.
Eilidh Mellis is an intern journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.